Sunday, June 29, 2014

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville: Chapters One through Fifty



So, I've made it through fifty chapters of Moby-Dick -- about 250 pages, which is about 40 percent. Though I'm behind the original reading schedule, I'm quite pleased about my progress.  When I started this read-along, I was really apprehensive -- Moby-Dick is one of those books that are legendary, almost like War and Peace (which I have read) or Ulysses (which I haven't). It seems to be one of those books that either you read in school, and hated, or that you plan to read someday, but never get around to.  

A quick summary of the novel so far:  Ishmael, a rather mysterious narrator, travels to Nantucket to find a place on a whaling ship.  There he meets Queequeg, and the two find jobs on the Pequod.  After several days on board, they meet the notorious Captain Ahab, who is hell-bent on avenging the loss of his leg to the eponymous Moby-Dick, a legendary white sperm whale. 

I like parts of it so far, but mostly, I was surprised by two different things.  First, I was surprised at the close relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg -- on their first night together, they basically share the same bed and become very cosy.  I'm not sure if this was common among sailors back in the 1850s, or I'm reading way too much into it.  

Secondly, I was surprised by the novel's unusual structure.  Like many novels of the era, it's broken up into lots of little short chapters -- some of them are less than a page long.  But it's not a straight narrative like I'm used to.  There are all kinds of random asides, like a short chapter about chowder (which I enjoyed) and a fairly long ramble about the color white (not as much).  



I'm beginning to think this is a novel I would appreciate much more if I was reading this as part of a class -- I'm sure there are tons of allusions and Biblical references and metaphors that I'm just not getting.  I tend not to read introductions and analyses of books until after I've finished them, because I hate spoilers (though I have a pretty good idea of how the book ends).  I never took any American literature classes in college, and I read hardly any in high school -- I think I'm the only one I've ever met who didn't read Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, or The Great Gatsby while I was in school.  

I can't say I love Moby-Dick so far, but I'm going to stick with it until the end.  I've read quite a bit of the book online, but some in my print copy (pictured below), and, lately, some on audiobook, narrated by Frank Muller, which is just wonderful.  My library owns two different versions on audio, and I've actually listened to both of them so far.  I'm sorry to say that the other edition, narrated by Paul Boehmer, was so boring that I was sure I'd fall asleep while driving.  Frank Muller is a much better narrator; in fact, I think I'd listen to pretty much anything he narrates.  

Bloggers, have any of you read Moby-Dick?  Did you love it or hate it?  and which are the big fat books that you still want to read but never seem to get around to starting?  

13 comments:

  1. I am surprised by how much I'm enjoying Moby-Dick. I am reading it at a slow pace. I pick it up when I am in the mood and put it down when I feel that I have read enough. I am welcoming the digressions. Ismael really interests me as a character. I really value his tastes and opinions. Ishmael is the reason why I read Moby-Dick. That being said, I'm sure that I will be dreaming of sperm whales for months to come.

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    1. It's better than I imagined, but I feel like I haven't learned that much about Ishmael yet. He's an elusive character, and I hope I learn more about him by the end of the book.

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  2. I've only ever read parts of Moby Dick, in high school. My nephew-in-law, Brian, who used to sail with my husband, re-reads it every few years. I'm 1100 pages into The Count of Monte Cristo (1462 pages) and that's taken me several months. The story's great, but I have to take breaks to read other things. I'd love to read Remembrance of Things Past, which I've started several times. I'm a mood reader, though, and it's hard to sustain the mood for long books.

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    1. I still haven't tried Monte Cristo yet -- I would definitely have to break it up between other books myself! However, I do tend to have several books going at the same time anyway. Listening to the audio of Moby-Dick does make me wish I could get on a boat! Too bad I'm completely landlocked.

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  3. Oh I am so impressed! Moby Dick has been on my to-read list forever. Yes I am one of those. As you mentioned I have received advice....it is the best book I have ever read....it is the worst book I have ever read. Maybe one day! Enjoy!

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    1. Yes, most people seem to love it or hate it. So far I'm on the fence.

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  4. I have never read Moby Dick, though I have heard from many that it is not as daunting as it might seem.

    The number of pages isn’t typically a consideration for me; I like big books (and I cannot lie). And I have read more than a few short books that seemingly took forever to finish.

    I am a bit stuck on the forth movement of The Dance to the Music of Time, however, which is 12 short books or four long books or one huge book, however you want to look at it. I fairly raced through the first three movements, but haven’t been able to get excited about the last one.

    Also, I do want to continue to read the Song of Fire and Ice series, and I have checked out the third book from the library twice now and returned it unread. I keep thinking I need to own a copy and then I will really start it…then I think that I am being silly because while I like the series, I have no intention of re-reading it so why buy a copy. So I dither and it remains unread by me.

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    1. A Dance to the Music of Time is on my TBR list too, but I'm putting it off for awhile, simply because I'd have to get it from the library -- I need to make more progress with my own TBR shelves first.

      I have read the entire Song of Fire and Ice series, the first three were the best, in my opinion. A Feast for Crows was pretty good, not my favorite, but I was disappointed in the last volume. I just couldn't wait for the library waiting list and copies at Costco were really reasonably priced so I couldn't resist.

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  5. I usually do well with long books and have read Moby Dick, but have not yet finished In Search of Lost Time or Dance to the Music of Time. Both of them are really a series of related novels, so after finishing one I lose momentum to move on to the next. Other reading calls. In Moby Dick or War and Peace or Bleak House, the narrative is more continuous and I get hooked.

    I think that Moby Dick is at least three stories: Ishmael's story, Ahab's story, and the whale's story. (I come down on the side of the whale.)

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  6. I read Moby Dick a few years ago (a friend challenged me) and I really liked it half of the time and really hated it the other half.
    But I felt so proud to have actually read it through that it was worth the time.

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  7. I have read Moby Dick--I did it on my own about 15 years ago, and like you, wish that I had read it in school, college not high school, as I think I would have appreciated it more. I remember really liking some parts and finding others tedious...sort of like the sailing adventure itself!

    I can't say I feel the need to reread, though I might like to do a "Best of" thumb through :)

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  8. I'm behind on this read too because of all of the asides. I feel like the Ahab/Moby Dick story is actually secondary to Ishmael's need to tell us everything he knows about whales, the ocean, boats, people, and everything else he's ever learned. It's hard to read in long stretches but I'm sticking with it!

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